This article was originally published on Humorality, on October 5, 2009.
Nearly Enough to Buy Your Way into Heaven
There were no winners in last Sunday’s Lotto drawing at Saint Andrew’s Church, so the entire jackpot rolls over into next week. A surge in ticket sales is sure to push the payoff for a single ticket with all six numbers correct to nearly $12.3 million dollars.
“We were all disappointed when nobody won,” says John Simpson, lead pastor of Saint Andrew’s. “I was so anxious to see the face of the winner. I mean, what can compare to worldly riches paid out as a lump sum, or in equal payments over twenty years? I can’t think of anything else.”
Since the church instituted the lottery two years ago, the jackpot has normally paid out between $500,000 and $1.5 million for those with six matching numbers, and between $50,000 and $75,000 for those with only five matches. But drawings over the last few months have produced no six-number winners, lifting the top prize to record highs. “It’s the work of the devil himself that I didn’t win it all,” explains Sarah Michaels. “But God still had mercy on me and didn’t let Ruby Lorenzo win either. That sinner took my six lucky numbers.”
With the jackpot at Tower-of-Babel levels, ticket sales are brisk. But adding Lotto to the slate of church ministries was literally a gamble. “We lost nearly a hundred members when we made the change, and they were pretty vocal about it, too,” explains Thomas Markowitz, president of the church council. “But we couldn’t accept their demand of implementing no-limit poker between the two Sunday services.” With the loss of congregational numbers, Markowitz wasn’t sure they would have enough people to make the lottery self-sustaining. “But it’s working out even better than a standard tithe system. Our pastor hated to give the stewardship sermon each year. Now he doesn’t even have to bother taking up an offering.”
The Lotto drawing happens each Sunday morning, about twenty minutes into the sermon. A notice printed on each ticket says that you “must be present and alert” to win. Allison Tanaka used to sleep through the exegetical messages, but no longer. “With this winning ticket in my hand, I don’t even blink during the message. Sure, the sermons are boring; I mean, who cares about some guy walking around the Middle East 2,000 years ago. Or was it the Midwest?”
The church’s last big winner, 75-year-old Milton Baker, took home a cool $5 million as a lump sum, minus about one-third of the payout in taxes. “I’ll never forget that day,” recalls Milton. “Pastor gave a sermon on the love of money being the root of something or other, and then he picked my numbers from the bucket. I haven’t been back to church much since then with all of the traveling and the divorce. But my new wife and I do plan on visiting the Holy Land in August. Does that count?”
Along with ticket sales, church attendance is also way up. But so are the protesters who picket outside the church each Sunday. Jessica Ford, one of the demonstrators, leads others in chants like, “Buy a ticket, lose your soul / The church should not play PowerBall.” But Pastor Simpson just shrugs it off. “‘Soul’ and ‘PowerBall’ don’t even rhyme. Besides, we’re doing the Lord’s work here. With the money that’s coming in, we’re able to help real people with real needs. When one of our members called last week with a flat tire on her Lexus, we were able to fix her up with a new Mercedes at an attractive lease rate.”
Some in the Christian community complain that Saint Andrew’s Church is promoting a “God wants you rich” mentality, akin to the messages often preached by televangelists. But Mary Rodgers, the church secretary, disagrees. “We are definitely not saying that God will bless everyone and make them wildly rich. Only those who get all six winning numbers will become wildly rich. You’ve gotta play to win.”
Still, Jessica Ford is insistent. “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet loses his soul? They’re making money their god in that church.” But with other churches in the area adding Vegas-style gaming, holdouts like Jessica may be in for an uphill battle. “We just don’t see a downside,” stressed Markowitz. “After all, ‘faith’ is the evidence of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Isn’t that what a lottery is all about?”